Preserving the Ecology of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

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lhanson
Jan 23, 2015


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Education, Science

Preserving the Ecology of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

The ʻōhiʻa lehua is a native tree that can only be found in the Hawaiian islands.  Photo by Daniel Wright of Clemson University
The ʻōhiʻa lehua is a native tree that can only be found in the Hawaiian islands. Photo by Daniel Wright of Clemson University

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is best known for its volcanoes. In fact, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa are two of the most active volcanoes in the world. A group of students and lifelong learners visited the park during the MV Explorer’s short stop in Hilo, Hawai’i, and discussed the history and ecology of the park with a park ranger, and learned that there is much more to the park than just volcanoes.

The ranger explained that due to the wide span in elevation (from sea level to 13,677 feet at the summit of Mauna Kea volcano), the park boasts seven ecological life zones: seacoast, lowland, mid-elevation woodland, rain forest, upland forest and woodland, sub-alpine, and alpine/aeolian.

These different life zones combined with the fact that the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands in the world, mean that Hawaii has produced many native species that do not exist anywhere else on the planet. In fact, Hawai’i has even more indigenous species than the Galapagos Islands, making it an incredible location to study evolution.

Students and Lifelong Learners discuss the ecology of the park with a Ranger
Students and Lifelong Learners discuss the ecology of the park with a Ranger

Unfortunately however, there are many threats to the natural habitat of these native plants and animals. Humans and the invasive species they bring with them are the main cause for concern. The state of Hawai’i leads all U.S. states in numbers of endangered species in addition to number of species that become extinct each year.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was officially made part of the U.S. Park system by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, making it the 13th National Park, and the first in a U.S. Territory (Hawai’i did not become a state until 1959).  The park was originally created for visitors to experience the incredible active volcanoes, but now whole teams from the park service work to preserve and restore the ecosystem to its natural state. UNESCO even named the park an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 because of its ecological value (and named a World Heritage Site in 1987).  To protect and restore the park, the Division of Resources Management has six objectives (from the National Park Service):

1. Remove alien invasive species with the primary focus on highly disruptive weeds and introduced ungulates such as sheep, goats, and pigs.

2. Restore highly altered Park ecosystems to conditions as natural as practical through extensive plantings of seedlings.

3. Restore lost biodiversity in Park ecosystems by recovering endangered, threatened, and rare species and reintroducing locally extirpated species.

4. Develop a systematic, science-based program of inventory and monitoring to better understand ecosystem populations, communities, threats, stresses, and health.

5. Maintain and expand Park partnerships with neighbors for natural and cultural resource protection to target invasive species threatening parklands.

The Park Service is dedicated to protecting the Hawksbill Sea Turtle.  Photo by Dr. Amber Johnson, professor or Languages and Communication at Prairie View A&M University
The Park Service is dedicated to protecting the turtles. Photo by Dr. Amber Johnson, professor of Languages and Communication at Prairie View A&M University

6. Focus on recovery for four endangered species; the nene, Hawaiian petrel, hawksbill turtle and Mauna Loa silversword as flagship programs for the Park with continued monitoring of all rare and threatened plant and animal species.

By following these steps, the Park Service wants to insure that the native plants and animals that took millions of years to evolve remain in the park for many more years to come.

For more information regarding Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the efforts to conserve the ecosystem, please visit the Park Home Page: http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm

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